“You’re stepping on my shadow, please back off,” she said.

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

Recent Posts

Bookriot: A Conversation Between Literary Translators Marian Schwartz and Nicky Harman

By Nicky Harman, September 13, '17

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Bookriot: A Conversation Between Literary Translators Marian Schwartz and Nicky Harman

Marian Schwartz is the award-winning translator of “Russian crime queen” Polina Dashkova’s first book to be translated into English, Madness Treads Lightly. She is the principal English translator of the works of Nina Berberova, and translated the New York Times bestseller The Last Tsar by Edvard Radzinsky, as well as classics by Mikhail Bulgakov, Ivan Goncharov, Yuri Olesha, and Mikhail Lermontov.

Nicky Harman, winner of the Mao Tai Cup People’s Literature Chinese-English translation prize 2015 and the 2013 China International Translation Contest, Chinese-to-English section, and is the translator of Happy Dreams by Jia Pingwa, one of China’s most celebrated writers.

We’ve brought them together to talk about their process, communicating with their (still living) authors, difficulties in their work, and more...

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Hapaxes and Chinese authors

By Nicky Harman, September 11, '17

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Here's a nice article I came across in Atlas Obscura about authors (Maya Nandakumar gives mainly classical ones as examples) who invent their own words. Made me think of a few living Chinese authors who seem to be similarly inventive with words or expressions ... Jia Pingwa comes to mind. On the other hand, when I can't find certain mystifying expressions anywhere else online, I often wonder if it's really the author's own invention or just that certain varieties of language (local dialects) are poorly represented on the internet....

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Chinese Translation Slam, Sheffield, 16th October 2017

By Nicky Harman, September 10, '17

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In Sheffield on Monday 16th October? Come and hear Nicky Harman and Michelle Deeter debate their competing translations of an Aman Song short story, in "Forty Nine Degrees – Chinese Translation Slam." In the heat of a traffic jam, a man and woman get stuck in a taxi on their way to visit the woman’s parents. She’s a graduate with few prospects; he’s the man her parents desperately want her to marry. Will they make the train? With host Deborah Smith from Tilted Axis Press. 7:30pm. http://www.offtheshelf.org.uk/…/forty-nine-degrees-chinese…/

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Chinese Literature in Translation: To Gloss or Not?

By Bruce Humes, August 27, '17

Glossing Africa is a fascinating piece on “glossing” — different ways to do it, and what it signifies when it is (or is not) employed. In this piece, glossing refers to practices for clarifying an indigenous term by providing a glossary, footnotes, inserting a brief definition, etc.

Of course, we translators also frequently have to decide whether to gloss or not. In Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon, for instance, I counted about 125 Evenki terms, including for proper names, place names and unique aspects of Evenki culture. More recently, Liu Jun and I co-translated Confessions of a Jade Lord by Alat Asem, in which there are many Uyghur and Arabic terms.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the popular Nigerian author now splitting her time between the US and Nigeria (and one of the rare contemporary African authors to have several novels available in Chinese), is definitely not a fan of glossing:

There’s a part of me that just deeply resents the fact that there’re many parts of the world where the fiction that comes from there is read as anthropology rather than as literature. And increasingly that kind of anthropological reading then means that… you’re explaining your world rather than inhabiting your world.

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Dialect, obscenities and (religious) swearing: different languages, same translation issues

By Nicky Harman, August 24, '17

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I came across this fascinating discussion on the Facebook page of the (UK) Translators Association Diaspora and with David Warriner's permission am re-posting it here.

22 August 2017, from David Warriner:

Here's a challenge for the hive mind: I'm translating a literary crime thriller set in coastal Quebec that's peppered with local flavour, mainly through religious swearing. The main challenge with the novel is going to be keeping that local flavour through the characters' speech while maintaining readability for a predominantly British audience. Most of the expressions are used so frequently, it's not really an option to keep them in French. And they're peppered so liberally throughout the characters' speech, they're not really swear words anymore. Anyway, I'm hoping to gather some ideas for religious almost-swear words along the lines of Sweet bejesus! and Christ on a bike! for tackling gems such as Saint-ciboire de câlisse! For context, think middle-aged, salt-crusted fisherman propping up the bar at the pub on the docks. Thanks in advance for any ideas."

Click "Leave a Comment" to read the responses

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Beijing Book Fair: List of Related Forums/Salons, etc?

By Bruce Humes, August 13, '17

Each year there are dozens of literary events timed to coincide with the Beijing International Book Fair (Aug 23-27, 2017). They take place both on the fair grounds and throughout the capital, and sponsors include Paper Republic.

As lists of these events-- in Chinese or English -- become available, please list here so that we can all benefit . . .

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Shanghai Moves to Ensure Independent Bookstores Toe the Line

By Bruce Humes, July 19, '17

Sad to learn that the last Jifeng Bookstore (季风), located at the Shanghai Library metro station, will close its doors in January 2018, according to the South China Morning Post. The original opened at Shanghai’s South Shaanxi Road metro station in 1997, and a string of other branches followed over the next decade.

It was during a break from my busy China speaking tour in 2000 about how importers abroad were using the Internet to source China-made goods, that right there in the South Shaanxi station I happened upon a copy of the very naughty 上海宝贝, the first Chinese novel I was to translate (Shanghai Baby). If it hadn’t been banned by then, it was certainly banned quickly thereafter.

The SCMP makes it clear that Jifeng is closing because the Shanghai authorities continually interfere with its efforts to host seminars and the like, events often referred to as 文化沙龙. This puts the few remaining independent booksellers in a bind: Book sales are increasingly monopolized by online vendors and massive Xinhua Bookstores, yet when independents try to branch out into other types of products and services — à la Eslite in Taiwan (诚品书店) — they are thwarted by the local culture department.

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“I Am Fan Yusu”: Speeding Up Time-to-Market

By Bruce Humes, May 30, '17

It can take several years for a piece of Chinese fiction to reach the English-speaking world. But thanks to publication in Chinese on the Internet — and translators working from it rather than the printed book — it looks like this time-to-foreign-reader can be radically reduced. Hopefully, this will help outsiders more quickly grasp what is going on in the “black box” that is China.

Reports Manya Koetse: “I Am Fan Yusu” went viral on Chinese social media in late April 2017. The author has since gone into hiding and her essay has been removed.

In some ways, the popularity of the essay in China is comparable to the recent hype over Alex Tizon’s essay “My Family’s Slave” on Western social media; this non-fiction story about ‘Lola’ Eudocia Tomas Pulido from the Philippines, who lived as a modern slave with an American family for 56 years, went viral on Twitter and Facebook in May. It gripped its many readers for exposing poignant problems in modern-day society that usually stay behind closed doors.

Fan Yusu’s account, in its own way, also revealed the harsh realities of an ever-changing society. China has an estimated 282 million rural migrant workers. The autobiographical tale focuses on the difficult childhood and adult life of one person . . .

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Translation Workshop, Hong Kong 20th June 2017

By Nicky Harman, May 24, '17

I'm running a translation workshop at Baptist University in Hong Kong on Tuesday 20th June 2017. We'll be working on a short piece of text from Jia Pingwa's novel 《高兴》. The event is free but please register by Monday 5th June to receive the text. Contact: cpw@hkbu.edu.hk and put Translation Workshop in the subject line.

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